A toxic mixture of salt, chemicals and water from the coal seams spilled out of the Bibblewindi Water Treatment Plant in the Pilliga Forest 10 years ago on 25th June. These photographs, taken since 2015, show how hard it is to regrow vegetation on this site.
When these spills first occurred, gypsum and sulphur were thrown around in an attempt to rehabilitate the soil – gypsum to break up the hard soils where the trapped salts were located, and sulphur brought the pH back from alkaline towards acid.
The latest photograph taken in May 2021 shows some growth but this was taken a couple of weeks after good rain. Santos have spent millions of dollars over ten years in an attempt to rehabilitate these sites. Eucalyptus, some planted, some seeded naturally, have returned along with bull oak but when their roots get to a certain depth, they often die. Some tree species, like Cypress pine, do not grow on spill sites.
There are 22 spill sites in the Pilliga and only about 50 wells have been drilled. The approved Narrabri Gas Project has 850 wells and is expected to bring up vast amounts of this toxic waste water. Although extraction methods have improved, more spills are inevitable.
You can visit some of these spill sites on a Pilliga Quick Gas Detour just off the Newell Highway. To visit the Bibblewindi Water Treatment you need to travel into the Forest – see item 3 on the Pilliga CSG Infrastructure Tour.